Starting in 1967 and ending in 1971 The Doors released six albums, The Doors, Strange Days, Waiting for the Sun, The Soft Parade, Morrison Hotel and L.A. Woman. The Perception box set from Rhino/Elektra includes all six. There are at least two versions of Perception , one that includes a CD and a DVD for each album and one that only has the CDs. This is a review of the CDs plus DVDs version.
Each album is presented in it’s own fold-out cardboard folder that contains a CD, a DVD and a booklet. The six folders fit neatly into a heavy cardboard box. The CDs contain the original albums (remixed) along with a collection of outtakes, alternate versions, and recorded snippets of conversation. A good amount of this extra material is listed as “previously unissued”. The DVDs contain high resolution mixes of the album (but not the extra material that appears on the CDs) and a video or two. The high resolution mixes include a stereo mix and 5.1 mixes in both Dolby Digital and DTS. Bruce Botnick, who was the recording engineer on all of The Doors albums, did all the remixes for Perception in 2006.
Each of the booklets contains a brief essay on the original recording of the album or the remix process by Botnick, an essay about the album by somebody or other, lyrics for the original Doors songs on the album and pictures. I found the essays by Botnick to be of the most interest. I read bits and pieces of some of the second essays in some of the booklets but found them to be the kind of laudatory/ecstatic/respectful blather you expect to find in these collections and quickly gave up. There may well be some good stuff here that I missed.
I did an A/B comparison of the first album, The Doors, by time-syncing the CD with the DVD. All of the mixes sound noticeably different and I didn’t find any of them to be clear winners or losers. They all sound good although each has strengths and weaknesses. This is a nice feature for real Doors fans who will have a wealth of different ways to hear these albums. I ended up listening to the 5.1 DTS mix of the entire set. For the most part the surround mix is fairly gentle with the rear speakers providing a slight delay to impart an increased sense of fullness to the music. There are a few exceptions such as the “Mojo risin'” break in “L.A. Woman” where Morrison’s voice is panned around the listening space. The surround on the rain and storm effects on “Riders on the Storm” is also very nicely done.
In his essay on the The Doors Botnick points out that the album was originally released at the wrong speed and hence the wrong pitch. It was too slow and a bit flat. The singles from The Doors, “Break on Through” and “Light My Fire” were both released at the proper speed but all of the album releases, both on vinyl and CD up until Perception played at the wrong speed. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this story is that neither Botnick nor anyone else noticed it until it was brought to their attention by a music professor in 2003. Although I hadn’t listened to The Doors for many years, decades actually, I’m fairly familiar with it having listened to it hundreds of times and introduced it to many listeners on a college radio show I was doing when it first came out. As soon as the corrected version started playing I knew something was “wrong”. I didn’t immediately recognize that it was faster and the pitch was higher but I heard that something was different. Given the amount of time you spend listening to the same music over and over again when recording, mixing and mastering an album it’s hard to believe that neither Botnck nor anyone in the band noticed the problem for over twenty-five years.
The Doors released six albums in four years and All Music lists close to seventy compilations of their music that have been released since. Given that glut of previously released Doors music, who would be interested in buying Perception? If you don’t have all or much of this music in your collection and you like the Doors, Perception is a great buy. The Doors made some truly outstanding music (The Doors and Strange Days are especially fine although most of the other albums have their moments as well), sound quality is uniformly good, you get The Doors playing at the correct speed and pitch, you have multiple mixes to choose from and lots of bonus material on the CDs and DVDs. If you’re a rabid Doors fan who has to have every last scrap of recorded output, you already have this set. If you’re looking to fill in some holes in your Doors collection and/or upgrade the sound quality of the recordings, Perception is a choice worth considering. If you’re reasonably happy with the Doors music you have or don’t care that much about the band, walk on by.
Throughout this review I’ve assumed the reader is familiar with The Doors and their music. I bought their initial album, The Doors, when it was first released because I had heard a radio spot for a club advertising a band called The Doors and liked the music that was playing in the background of the ad. To this day, I still don’t know if it was the same band. I immediately fell in love with the album, however, and had played it to death before the AM radio edit of “Light My Fire” hit it big six months later. Although Jim Morrison got all the press I had tuned in to the band before the media-hype machine had gotten into gear and I never thought of Morrison as anything special. He was an important part of the band, certainly, but not the main focus of interest. Listening to Perception reminded me of what had turned me on to The Doors in the first place. The music. Especially the musicianship of John Densmore (drums), Robby Krieger (guitar) and Ray Manzarek (keyboards). They were all accomplished musicians who meshed together beautifully and played music that didn’t sound like anyone else. There just weren’t rock bands around that featured a classically trained keyboard player, a guitarist steeped in flamenco, and a jazz drummer. They were brilliant, especially at the beginning before it became obvious that Morrison was several zip codes away from being able to handle the consequences of fame and success. Morrison’s rapid deterioration had its effect on the band and the music they played but the first two albums, The Doors and Strange Days, and, for me, parts of the third, Waiting for the Sun, are among the highest moments of the spectacular music made between 1964 and 1971. Listening to the high quality remixes of this music on Perception has been thoroughly enjoyable.